To achieve climate neutrality by 2050, the EU must reduce emissions by about 90% compared with 1990. In this regard, the solar economy, electrification and hydrogen-based solutions and the circular economy will have key roles. Land use and bioeconomy will be important to this transformation, and beyond 2050 their role will be vital as the majority of GHG emissions and sinks are in this sector. The main contributors of emissions beyond 2050 will be related to food production and land use, and the main contributor to carbon sequestration will be related to land use, Figure 1.
Land use and bioeconomy are also economically important, employing 17.5 million people, almost 9% of the EU’s total labour force, and providing about 5% of the EU’s GDP (2).
In the EU’s ‘Clean Planet for All strategy’ (3), land use and bioeconomy was presented as one of seven main building blocks. This is an insightful, forward-looking and holistic inclusion in the strategy. In the Green Deal, land use and bioeconomy is addressed in several sector-specific initiatives – for example in the Farm to Fork, Biodiversity and Forest strategies, Renovation Wave, Industrial strategy, Circular Economy Action plan, Renewable Energy Directive, and initiatives related to the transport sector. Due to several initiatives, it is difficult to capture the ‘big picture’ of the sector.
The 2030 target plan (4) mentions that ‘a further step to enhance removals could be to integrate agriculture non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions into the land use, land use change and forestry sector and to create a new regulated sector covering agriculture, forestry and land use’. CLC believes that this is the right direction to take but that land use cannot be planned effectively without addressing related products and services.
The forest-based bioeconomy can mitigate climate change by increasing carbon stocks (‘net sink’) in forest land and long-lived wood products and by using wood to substitute other materials or fossil fuels (5). Bio-based materials are under rapid development, and CLC has described the status of development in a separate policy brief (6). CLC believes that a holistic assessment that factors in carbon sequestering, storages and substitution of fossil-based materials with bio-based materials and products is essential for policies that ensure the forest bioeconomy makes an effective and resilient contribution to climate change mitigation.
Positive climate impacts in agriculture and food production can be improved by decreasing GHG emissions and enhancing carbon sequestration. The main ways of reducing GHGs are to eliminate food waste, increase the efficiency rate of food production, change diets, cut soil emissions via agricultural management practices like precision agriculture and carbon farming that aim for sustainable intensification and vertical farming, and industrial production of food materials.
It is predicted that during the coming decades, several new ways to produce food with less or no land use will be introduced. Venture capital investment flows to this area have increased sixfold since 2017, and as investment has flowed in over recent years, the cost of cultured meat has dropped from hundreds of dollars per kilogram to $25 (7). Overall, alternative proteins could be up to five times cheaper than existing animal proteins, and alternative protein markets are projected to grow eighteenfold to become an $85 billion industry by 2030 (8,9).
If these forecasts are realised, there will be much agricultural land available for other purposes than they are currently used for. A report (9) predicts that by 2035, about 60% of land in the US currently being used for livestock and feed production will be freed for other uses. This is the main reason why land use by the agriculture and forestry sectors needs to be planned jointly. Even if synthetic food production develops at only half the forecasted rate, it will likely have a significant impact on land use in the long term.
At the same time, biodiversity should be enhanced in all land categories, for example via improved land/forest management practices. Protecting and restoring biodiversity and well-functioning ecosystems with conservation goals that account for key biodiversity-rich areas is essential to our well-being in many respects, ranging from food security to our future ability to prevent the emergence and spread of diseases. Natural capital investments, including restoration of carbon-rich habitats and climate-friendly agriculture, are also recognised as being among the most important fiscal recovery policies, offering high economic multipliers and positive climate impacts. In addition, the effects of climate change on ecosystems need to be clearly understood in long-term planning.
For the reasons above, CLC proposes an assessment – a synthesis strategy for the full potential of land use, bioeconomy and biodiversity – be done before the climate strategies and policies for beyond 2030 are decided. A holistic synthesis would combine the relevant parts already included in the other sector-based strategies with the potential impacts of developments in biomaterials and new food-production methods. The EU sector integration and hydrogen strategies provide good references for the holistic synthesis of the bioeconomy.
The synthesis strategy should include the following elements:
- short-, medium- and long-term market outlooks for biomaterials and new food-production methods and their climate mitigation potential
- a view of optimal land use in the long term (2050-) based on the above study
- market-based mechanisms to accelerate the commercial use of biomaterials and new food-production methods to generate positive substitution effects
- a market-based scheme to enhance forest- and agriculture-based carbon sinks
- incentives to improve biodiversity and soil function in managed forests and agriculture to promote growth and soil health
- increased funding for R&D in areas relating to bio-based substitution of fossil-based materials and products, new food-production methods and new ways of improving carbon sequestration
- an analysis of the long-term effects of climate change on ecosystems and adaptation policy needs
CLC believes that the land use and bioeconomy sector offers more climate mitigation opportunities than is currently understood. A preliminary estimate is presented in the attachment.
- Stepping up Europe’s 2030 climate ambition, Impact Assessment, EU Commission, 2020.
- EU Bioeconomy Monitoring System dashboards, EU Commission.
- A Clean Planet for all, EU Commission, 2018.
- 2030 Climate Target Plan, EU Commission, 2020.
- Brief on the role of the forest-based bioeconomy in mitigating climate change through carbon storage and material substitution. Grassi Giacomo; Fiorese Giulia; Pilli Roberto; Jonsson Klas; Blujdea Viorel; Korosuo Anu; Vizarri Matteo, European Commission, 2021.
- Biomaterials have an important role to play in achieving the strategic goals of the European Green Deal and New Industrial Strategy, CLC Policy Brief, 2021.
- The Paris Effect, How the climate agreement is reshaping the global economy. Julia Turner, Mark Meldrum and Jeremy Oppenheim, SYSTEMIQ, 2020.
- Rethinking Food and Agriculture. Catherine Tubb, Tony Seba, RethinkX. 2019.
- Cheaper mock beef raises the stakes. UBS, 2021.
More information: Juha Turkki, Development Director, Climate Leadership Coalition, email@example.com, +358 45 3461925,
Jouni Keronen, CEO, Climate Leadership Coalition, firstname.lastname@example.org , +358 50 4534881
Cumulative climate effect of the bioeconomy and land use 2020–2100. (Preliminary estimates showing potential impact, to be evaluated more carefully with experts later.)
- Stepping up Europe’s climate ambition, Impact assessment, part 2, forest area expansion by 7 Mha -> additional sink 40 Mt/y and 45 Mt/y by improved forest management; European Forest Institute correspondingly 10-15 Mha-64 Mt and 95 Mt/a.
- Stepping up Europe’s climate ambition, Impact assessment, part 2, additional agricultural sink 45 Mt/y, French 4 per1000-initiative estimation 3 Gt additional, MTK estimation 3-12 Gt additional sinks.